The English language is beautiul.
Over the weekend, a friend gave me a book written by an acquaintance of his. Before I go into what I thought about it, writing a book is a major undertaking. I have nothing but respect for people who follow through with this. This particular book was self-published. I see no issue there. There was a day when that was a bad thing but NOT TO ME.
This book broke my heart on just about every level. I had to look up the plot online because there is so much exposition and it was so poorly constructed I couldn’t follow it. As a lover of the English language, it felt like that author took it, beat the pulp out of it, microwaved it, ripped it up, and beat it some more. Rather than make this into a rant only about how bad this book is, I am going to offer my suggestions on basic stuff:
Alyson’s writing tips:
- They are lazy. Use a better verb. There are rare times when you can use one but the fewer you use, the tighter your writing will be.
- Stick with one name per character. For example; if you have a character named Anthony Rebbi, call him Anthony or Tony but don’t go back and forth. Bonus: use their full name when you first mention them and then whichever name you like for the rest of the book/story.
- Don’t be redundant. If your character has an annoying habit, for example, just show them doing whatever they do. For example, you have a character that swears a lot. You don’t need to write, “Kelly likes to swear.” Just write her dialogue with a lot of curses. SHOW DON’T TELL!
- Learn the rules of basic punctuation.
- Quotation marks are not a way to add emphasis. You can do that by using the bold or italic fomatting options. Quotation marks used for emphasis give the reader the wrong impression. For example, I spent the weekend acting in a murder mystery. Another actor played my “husband.” See that shows he wasn’t really my husband. If you see a sign for “sushi,” it is probably not real sushi. If you need more information on quotation marks, check this out.
- When using quotation marks, be careful where you put commas and periods. It is “I told you I hate dentists,” she said. “They have always scared me.” Note the period and comma sit inside the quotation marks, not after.
- Use spell check. This is the easiest thing you can do to make your writing clearer. As a bonus, you can get a grammar check which will keep you from having sentences that omit words. This is a common issue that makes your prose make little sense. You can also use Grammarly. Great (and free!) service.
- Get your dialogue right. Can you see what is wrong here?
- Shelley answered the phone, “Hello she said. Do you want pizza?” You can approach this in a few ways but that is not one of them. This can be, “Hello,” she said. “Do you want pizza?” It can be in the course of a total conversaion and the whole “she said” can be dopped. Including it mid dialogue as was in the book, is just wrong.
- “I was thinking we should go to Montauk” he said. You need a comma after Montauk and before the second quotation mark.
- Use an editor. I was emailing back and forth with a journalist who admitted that due to budget cuts, he did all of his editing and made mistakes as a result. If you are writing on your own like that, you really need to use Grammarly. If you are looking to publish a book, or something else that matters to you, get someone who is experienced at editing. You may have a best friend who “gets you” but that person is crucial for your success (or failure) here.
- Stick with one verb tense. Unless you are going back and forth with flashbacks or maybe images from the future, you need to be consistent here.
Writing resources that rock:
- The Bible of writing in the English language is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
- On Writing by Stephen King is a personal favorite.
- You can never go wrong with the Associated Press (AP) stylebook.
And if you want, I can always help.